I absolutely loved The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett. It is thirty years since Follett published his monster hit The Pillars of the Earth and this novel is his prequel to what became the Kingsbridge series. Set in Southern England in the year 997 at the end of the Dark Ages – so called because the lack of historical documents and archaeological remains from the time means our knowledge of the era is thin – it was a period of unrest and war. Viking raids, skirmishes with the Welsh, the law allows violence against slaves while power-hungry local rulers disobey the rules of King Ethelred.
The story is told by three principal characters – a French noblewoman, a young English boatbuilder and an English monk. Each is smart, ambitious and honest but they are confronted by violence, cruelty, law-breaking, jealousy and betrayal.
In the west country village of Combe, eighteen-year old boatbuilder Edgar waits on the beach for his true love. She is married and the pair are going to run away together. But as Edgar waits, he sees the arrival of a Viking ship and his life changes. The town is destroyed. Three powerful brothers arrive to examine the damage – Wilwulf, ealdorman of local region Shiring; Bishop Wynstan of Shiring; and Wilgelm, thane of Combe – each will lose income because of the raid. It is decided a visit to Normandy is necessary to ask for support from Count Hubert, a Norman lord in Cherbourg who has influence with the Vikings.
In Normandy, Hubert receives two English visitors, a monk and a priest. The monk, Brother Aldred, has a chest of books he has bought in a French abbey. His plan is to create a library, a scriptorium, at Shiring Abbey. Hubert’s daughter Ragna is under pressure from her parents to marry a local lord she dislikes. She wishes Guillaume was educated like Aldred who, being a monk, is celibate. But when English lord Wilwulf arrives, she quickly falls in love.
Ragna travels to England where she will marry Wilfulf. En route she arrives at Dreng’s Ferry and meets Edgar. His family now lives on a farm at this, a poor, lawless place where the local dean and clergy live life to their own rules. This is the beginning of a long friendship that will last many years. Though life as the wife of an English ealdorman is not what she expected, Ragna is supported by the presence in Shiring of Aldred who also becomes a friend.
This is an endlessly fascinating story, with so many twists and turns, achievements and horrific setbacks for the three friends that it’s easy to get lost in the ups and downs of their lives. The structure of the story may be predictable at times but the characters are strongly written, the historical setting is believable and the themes of friendship and perseverance are uplifting.
As soon as I finished reading it – and it’s a long book, 832 pages – I wanted to start at the beginning again. The last time I felt like that was when I finished The Pillars of the Earth.
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Read my review of The Pillars of the Earth.
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THE EVENING AND THE MORNING by @KMFollett #books https://wp.me/p5gEM4-59F via @SandraDanby